Rocks anchor fun at park

Synthetic boulders are put at Straub Park in hopes of keeping kids out of nearby banyan and kapok trees.

Published August 9, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Work crews rocked Straub Park on Monday.

Installing what could be the first of such items placed elsewhere around the city, workers put down a man-made "cliff boulder" and a "hill boulder" at Beach Drive and Second Avenue NE, just south of the Museum of Fine Arts.

It's okay to clamber and scramble on the things.

Indeed, it's encouraged.

City Council members decided early this year that they liked council member John Bryan's idea to install climbing rocks for children.

Straub Park was chosen in the hope that it would keep young folks out of big, landmark trees nearby.

"That spot was chosen on purpose because of its proximity to the banyan trees and the kapok tree at the museum," said Clarence Scott, parks director. "There's a long history of folks climbing those trees."

It is early for youngsters' reviews, and residents of nearby condominiums have yet to weigh in on what they think of the sandy-colored, fiberglass suggestion of mountains on the waterfront.

After crews finished Monday afternoon, a trio of teenagers stood gazing at the rocks, apparently not sure whether they were allowed to get on them.

"They're for kids of all ages," Scott said.

They might start showing up at other parks or playgrounds.

"We're going to take a wait-and-see position and see how popular they are," Scott said.

The "cliff boulder" is about 10 feet high and perhaps 20 feet long. It cost $17,900.

Its little brother, the "hill boulder," is a diminutive 3 feet by 10 feet and cost $4,200.

The money came from the sale of the city's Weeki Wachee property, which created funds to use for recreational projects.

Playworld Systems, a Pennsylvania-based playground equipment company, manufactures the boulders.

On Monday, Ty Allen, who owns ForeverLawn in Clermont, was sweating as he helped complete his part of the project.

It was artificial grass set over a foundation of chopped-up tires, or "crumb rubber, " Allen said. It's used to provide a cushion when people fall off the boulders.

Liability issues are the same as for any other piece of playground equipment, Scott said.